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Villagers learn lessons in disaster

By Wang Feng in Hong Kong | China Daily | Updated: 2019-03-13 08:54
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Volunteers visit Liuzhou city, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, to train members of the Dong ethnic group in public health and disaster preparedness. [Photo by CCOUC/CHINA DAILY]

Team from Hong Kong spreading awareness in remote rural areas

In a remote village in Southwest China that had been hit by an earthquake six months earlier, Emily Chan Ying-yang saw signs of trouble brewing.

People were profoundly depressed. Their days were spent without electricity or fresh water, while chickens roamed freely through their ramshackle homes.

Chan's efforts in leading a team of volunteers in Ma'anqiao village laid the foundation for what has become an ongoing effort to help prepare people in remote villages for when disaster strikes.

The public health scholar from Hong Kong made her first visit to Ma'anqiao, 120 kilometers from Panzhihua, Sichuan province, in March 2009.

"Unhealthy conditions, with humans and livestock living together, and animal or human waste scattered throughout living areas, heightened health risks in a place that had earlier been struck by disaster," Chan said.

Now assistant dean and professor on the Chinese University of Hong Kong faculty of medicine, she believes that damage caused in impoverished, disaster-stricken areas can be greatly mitigated through public education.

There is government help, but such assistance mostly comes after disaster strikes. Chan's goal is to carry out risk assessment and preparedness training.

Since she first visited Ma'anqiao, she has led more than 700 volunteer students from Hong Kong universities into risk-prone areas. Their journeys have taken them to outlying villages in nine provinces and to the suburbs of Chongqing.

Each team consisted of 10 to 20 students, with Chan or other instructors taking the lead.

They lived with villagers for a week or two, talked to them, and even played games with them, but the sole objective was to prepare them for disaster. In each case, the teams focused on local health risks, including water contamination.

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